Deeply Rooted at JOMBA! 2020: Legacy and memory meet online

During her welcome address for the digital 22nd annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience, artistic director Dr. Lliane Loots highlighted the importance of memory as not mere nostalgia but as a roadmap for our collective future, particularly as we navigate the isolation of this new COVID-19 world. Featured on the festival's 'Legacy' platform, Chicago's revered Deeply Rooted Dance Theater (celebrating their 25th anniversary) presented excerpts from three ensemble works, each of which distinctly centers the aforementioned "memory as future roadmap" theme: "Indumba"choreographed by Fana Tshabalala (2017; music by Nicholas Aphane, costumes by Alex Gordon, lighting design by Sarah Lackner), "Parallel Lives" choreographed by Deeply Rooted associate artistic director Gary Abbott (2018; original music by Evangelos Spanos/based on “La Folia”, costumes by Carolyn Meckha Cherry, lighting by Sarah Lackner), and "Goshen: Dance Revival" choreographed by Tshediso Kabulu (2019; concept and music by Donald Lawrence, costumes by Ruben Echoles, lighting by Sarah Lackner).

“Indumba” ("healing hut" in isiZulu) dynamically evokes the arduous-but-mandatory civic endeavor of South Africa's ongoing post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation process. Minimalist stage and unisex costume design combine with the coed ensemble's nimble strength and agility for a visceral boxing ring effect. “Parallel Lives” extols the extraordinarily everyday-yet-beautiful spirit of working-class women of color. Here, the ensemble's classically feminine costumes (colorful, flowy, knee-length, A-line skirts and dresses) belie their collective 'Rosie The Riveter' mettle exemplified through the work's skillfully demanding choreography (#awomanswork). A score of sweeping strings and booming taiko drums heightens the audience's sense of these women's perpetual balancing act for survival. “GOSHEN: Dance Revival embodies the electric intersection of secular and sanctified revelry, catalyzed by the music of gospel singer Donald Lawrence, the costumes' hybrid sartorial styling and the ensemble's deft melding of Afrodiasporic movement codas.

The conceptual tie that binds these excerpts together in this compellingly nuanced program is the core value of resilience—born not out of desperation, but of innovation. Deeply Rooted has been a JOMBA! partner since 2013. With their digital 'Legacy' program at this year's festival, in this era of global paradigm shifting prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Deeply Rooted offers three models of innovative resilience, exactly what this world needs, in order to reset and rebuild.


This piece was produced as part of the inaugural See Chicago Dance Critical Writing Fellowship in partnership with JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa), the University of the Witwatersrand and The Ar(t)chive (Johannesburg, South Africa) and the University of East London (London, UK). Financial support is provided by the U.S. Consulate in Durban, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.


Fellow Felicia Holman is a native Chicagoan, an independent cultural producer/facilitator and a co-founder of Afrodiasporic feminist creative collective Honey Pot Performance. She is also a 2020-2021 Threewalls RaDLab fellow. Felicia's creative professional and social practices are firmly grounded in critical thought, intersectionality, community building and embodied storytelling. Her recent projects include: featured performer with The Fly Honey Show 10, guest curator for City Bureau's Fall 2019 Public Newsroom series and a guest contributor with The Quarantine Times (published by Public Media Institute).